Monday, January 14, 2013

Networking for Writers: Yes, It's Who You Know

This article includes tips for expanding the network of people who can help you find an agent or publisher, increase your pool of potential readers, or make money with your writing. We're talking about connecting with real people not just adding more Twitter followers who couldn't care less what you do.

Full disclosure: I'm a writer and an introvert, so these suggestions -- which are commonsense to sales people and extroverts -- were not commonsense to me.

1) Stalk People Online

Found someone interesting or influential on a Website or in a social media group?
- Connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, and other places they hang out.
- Like their posts, retweet their Tweets, comment on their discussions.
- If they're selling something inexpensive, buy it.
- Do this over a period of months, then ask for their help politely and directly. (See "Asking for Help" below.)
- Help you could ask for: posting or tweeting a link to your blog or about your book to their followers, advice on a publishing problem, a referral to someone they know who could help you.
*Real World Example: I haven't tried this yet, but I've had it done to me -- and I was happy to help.

2) Talk about Your Book When You're Out and About - in the Flesh or Online

*Real World Example: I belong to several Meetup groups that I attend for social activities.
- In my Meetup profile, I mention my book, which is supposed to be funny, and my Meetup tagline is the "The Comedian."
- A woman who is into books and reading, contacted me. We e-mailed and met for drinks -- we're just friends -- but she introduced me via e-mail to two published writers she knows. I spoke to them both on the phone. One wants to see the first five pages of my novel.

3) Host an Event and Invite Influential People to Speak or Read

*Real World Examples:
- A friend who is looking for an agent, is hosting a reading event. He invited a lot of big-name local novelists. He will also read at his event. If the authors like his stuff, they may offer to help him find an agent.
- In Boston, I co-host a monthly happy hour for local writers called Media Chowder. Since I'm a co-host, people know me or want to know me. A published author who came to a few events would e-mail me periodically and ask how my book was coming a long. One day, out of the blue, he offered to forward my query letter to his agent who said she couldn't sell my current book but would happy to look at future stuff.

4) Asking for Help

- E-mail etiquette: Ask politely and directly for what you want. Don't write a long-winded puffy letter full of compliments, and then ask for a favor as if it was an afterthought.
- Don't do someone a favor, and then immediately asking for a favor -- it's tacky.
- A great piece on this topic from writer Sarah Manguso
- A great book on this topic: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. (Don't laugh: I've taken the a Dale Carnegie course and read this book -- best plain-English advice I've ever gotten.)

5) A Word about Agents

- Authors are very proprietary about their agents and many will not offer to connect you to their agent.
- Personally, I would never ask for a referral to an author's agent. I'd mention that I'm looking for an agent and if they offer, great.

6) Make a Deal: More on Agents

- I know several writers who are also looking for an agent. I like their work and they like mine. We have an agreement: If one of us finds an agent, we'll ask our agent to read the other writers' query letter.

7) What Goes Around Comes Around

- Some of the people who helped me are either not looking for help or are in fields in which I can't do anything for them.
- But when someone contacts me and is polite, I try to help them. (I have also learned to say 'no' to people who are just looking for a lot of free advice.)
*Real world example: Several times I've been contacted on Linked In by people looking for an editor. At the time, I didn't have time. But I referred the people to people I knew -- one whom I had met on Linked In. The results: Two people I knew now have consulting gigs with Linked In connections.
*A number of people, noted earlier in this post, have helped me without me even asking.

8) Always Be Closing But Don't Be a Jerk.


More Book Marketing

- How Many Agents Should You Query? 50? 150?

- E-mail Lists and Newsletters 

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*Attribution for networking image at top of post: This was a public domain image I found on Pixabay.

Image attribution: I couldn't locate creator of this image, but here's where I got it.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Quick, Dirty Book Marketing: Stuff that's Worked for Me

Here's a quick overview of book marketing strategy based on things that have worked for me during the last six months. This article also suggests easy-to-use Web-based tools and a warning for users of Google's Feedburner blog subscription tool.

A key goal of book marketing is to drive people to your blog or Web site, and then get them to leave an e-mail address. Here's why: Remember all those Facebook friends and likes, Twitter followers, and Linked In connections you've spent hours collecting? They're not your friends, they are Facebook's friends.

If a social media platform -- for example Facebook -- changes its rules and want to charge you to reach your hard-earned connections, you're screwed. If the social media company closes it's doors, you're screwed. More on why Facebook sucks.

I) Blogging

1) Choosing a platform

For most people the choice boils down to WordPress or Blogger.
- Blogger is simpler
- WordPress is more powerful, meaning there are more cool things you can do with it.

Both platforms will allow you to create a blog that looks, feels, and behaves like a Web site. This blog was created with Blogger.

2) Content, Frequency, Length

a) Content: 
- For Non-fiction writers this is easier: Focus on current events, offer tips, respond to reader comments. 
- For Fiction writers: Pick some themes and topics mentioned in your book and treat them the same way a non-fiction writer does. So, If your book involves an exotic location, write about that location. If your characters are single, write about single life. 
- Should writers blog about writing? There's a lot of conflicting opinions. Some experts claim you'll be diluting your audience and that writers don't buy books. Other experts, say that's hogwash. Try it and see if you get any clicks.

*Include a piece of art at the top of your blog! Posts will look more professional and be more attractive when you promote you links on Facebook, Linked In, and other sites. A good place to find free art: Creative Commons. A word on attribution: you want to give credit to artists. I've been grabbing the attributions and posting them at the end of my blogs.

*Be sure the first paragraph or your blog summarizes the content: When you post links to your blog, some social media sites will include the first graph. If that graph is cutesy, clever, and confusing, you'll lose readership.

b) Frequency
I was blogging weekly and it was too much work. Now, I'm blogging three times a month, which feels about right -- and my traffic has remained about the same.

c) Length
Some experts recommend no more than 250 words. I've been doing up to 750. Length doesn't seem to affect my traffic.

3) Capturing E-Mails 


You want people who like your blog to sign up or subscribe. Suggestions for increasing sign ups:

a) Use a tool such as Feedburner, which does the following:
- Creates a sign-up box that lets readers add their e-mail or subscribe via RSS feed.
- Many people hate Feedburner because it doesn't offer any tech support -- like many free tools from Google, including Blogger, you're on your own. (For tech support, I always search on the problem I'm having and often other people have had similar problems and come up with answers. For example, I recently searched on: "Why does my Feedburner count fluctuate?" and found reams of answers.

b) Post a sign-up box at the end of each blog post. (See end of this post for how I do it.)

*NOTE: There are rumors that Google may shut down Feedburner. Here's what you can do to move your subscribers to alternatives to FeedBurner.

4) Include Google Ads?

If you are getting some traffic, say more than 3,000 page views a month, consider using Google ads. I just starting posting Google ads on this  blog. The ads are in the upper right-hand corner and at the bottom of the page. The ads have not hurt my traffic and I earned $10 last month. I suspect that earnings will go up as Google starts posting more relevant ads.


SEO involves several steps:
- Determining the best Google-friendly keyword phrases that will make your blog posts easy to find.
- Inserting them into your headlines and first paragraph of your posts.
- Including those keywords in your blog description. (Blogger provides a Search Description box that you can fill out for each post.)

Humorous, useful pieces on Keyword phrases and SEO

More than you need to know about SEO

III) Driving Traffic by Posting Links

This is a key reason you are bothering with social media: To post links that drive people to your blog.
Facebook and Linked In have groups of people with similar interests. Linked In and Facebook allow you to search for groups by topic and will tell you how many members are in each group.
*Before signing up for a group: consider the number of members, then visit the group to how active those members are: If there are only a few posts from the same person or the posts are two weeks old, skip it.
*Linked In limits the number of groups you can join to 50. Posting links to 50 groups takes me about a 1.5 hours, but it generates 75% of my traffic.

IV) Managing E-mails

You have a lists of people in your personal and business e-mail. Any of them interested in your writing? If you have more than 50, you won't be able to e-mail them all at once from a typical e-mail program, like say, Yahoo! Mail.

For managing large groups of e-mails and for creating periodic e-mail blasts and e-mail newsletters use an e-mail management service. I've been using Mailchimp and, so far, have no complaints.

More on managing e-mail addresses and newsletters.

V) Offline Book Marketing

1) Public Readings

You don't have to be a big name author -- or even have a book -- to do public readings. I've been reading from my as-yet unfinished book at poetry slams (my book isn't poetry), story slams (I won one), a smut slam (don't ask), and public libraries (libraries in Boston pay readers.)

The key to giving public readings: Make sure you collect e-mail addresses from people at the reading. Add these people manually to Mailchimp or your e-mail management program.

Note: I'm an idiot, I've given more than 50 readings and didn't bother collecting e-mails until last month. Don't make the same mistake!


2) More on Public Readings 


I once gave a reading at a store that sells travel gear (My novel includes a lot of travel scenes.) I am going to approach other stores related to other themes in my book:
- Humorous erotica: I'm going to pitch readings to lingerie shops, wine stores, stores that sell sex toys, sex conferences.
- More travel: I am gong to create a (PG-rated) presentation about my trip around the world and weave in readings from my book. I'll pitch hostels, hotels, and more stores that sell travel gear.
- Dating and single life: I have a lot of dating scenes in my book, I just need to find stores that cater to singles. This could also include wine stores, fancy restaurants, and singles clubs.


3) A-B-C: Always Be Closing


If someone asks you what you do, mention your book. If they seem interested ask if they want to be on your mailing list. If they had you a business card, be sure to ask them: "Is this the best e-mail for personal e-mail or information on my book?"

Had Enough Book Marketing?

- Vicodin, Klonopin, or Heineken: What do unemployed writers have for breakfast?


- Humorous Erotica: The Online Date that Went a Little too Well *

*Content Warning: This piece contains adult language, adult situations, and more adult language.

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Attribution for Book image at top of post: "This file is from the Open Clip Art Library, which released it explicitly into the public domain, using the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication."

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Keep Going: Inspiration for Writers

With all the bad news about publishing, writing, the economy, the Boston Red Sox, the New York Giants -- how do you keep going? Here's some inspiration that covers writing, the creative process, and motivation. Warning to atheists: Many of these writings describe creativity using terms such as channeling, higher power, and the gods.


I borrowed most of the following books from my local library. If you're low on cash, you can, too. Many are pretty short. Some of the longer ones are quick reads because they're hard to put down. And one wasn't worth finishing but I enjoyed the first two thirds.

"The Writing Life" by Annie Dillard
All about the process, the frustrations, the blind alleys, cutting your favorite passages, writing for days and coming up with only a few useable sentences -- and then having to toss them. 
Read the first two pages here.

"The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life" by Twyla Tharp
Though Tharp is famous as a dance choreographer, she offers practical advice on how to get the muse going: routine, routine, routine.

"Do the Work" and "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield
I read them both and liked the former better. My personal favorite is a passage called "Start Before Your Ready." In other words, don't waste a lot of time researching and preparing -- make sure the pool is deep enough, and then jump in head first. Read a passage on this Amazon link. (Note to readers in Acton, Mass.: I borrowed the book several months ago, lost it, and now have to pay the library $13. There are still a few other copies available.)

"On Writing" by Stephen King
The beginning offers some interesting bio information on how he King got started and his struggles. He's another guy who wrote and wrote, until he got a break. The middle third offered some useful tips. The last third of the book is a memoir about his motorcycle accident; it bored me and I didn't finish it.

Web Sites and Links

Free and just a click away. To read, the New York Times article, "How to Write," you may have to register. Sorry.

"If at First You Don't Succeed, You're in Excellent Company"
This Wall Street Journal article trots out a lot of the usual suspects -- Michael Jordan, Dr. Seuss, Julie Andrews, Winston Churchill -- but I found it moving and cut it out to hang near my desk. (Yes, I'm a corny, sentimental guy.)

"10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You"
A book excerpt published in the Wall Street Journal. Some great, quirky advice. My personal favorite:
"Read obituaries. They are just like biographies, only shorter. They remind us that interesting, successful people rarely lead orderly, linear lives."

"How to Write"
Eleven rules from writer Colson Whitehead. Not that useful but an amusing read. My personal favorite rule: "Have adventures.... Get out and see the world. It’s not going to kill you to butch it up a tad. Book passage on a tramp steamer. Rustle up some dysentery; it’s worth it for the fever dreams alone. Lose a kidney in a knife fight. You’ll be glad you did."

Brain Pickings
This Web site includes a slew of motivational articles and images for writers, artists, and anyone else who needs go out and kick some ass. My recent favorite: The Holstee Manifesto
Here's a quote for us single people gutting it out through the holidays: "If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”

Jonesing for Some Book Marketing?  


- Book Marketing for Nitwits: Getting Started with SEO

- Easy, Sleazy Book Marketing Results 

-Tips for Reading Your Writing in Public

Had Enough Book Marketing?


 - Ski Trip to British Columbia: Local potheads, make mine a double, and who said Canadians are nice?

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Art attribution for liquid courage image:  By Dirk Van Esbroeck (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons